Today in 1637, a month after a combined Pequot and Wangunk attack on the small colonial town of Wethersfield left nine dead and crippled the town’s food security, a group of 77 English soldiers and hundreds of their Mohegan and Narragansett allies retaliated by attacking and burning a Pequot village at Mystic Fort, near the Connecticut coastline.
The raid on Wethersfield had prompted Connecticut’s colonial leaders to declare war against the Pequots on May 1 — an act they saw as critical to the survival of their fledgling settlements. Soon afterward, Connecticut’s three largest towns (Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield) each pledged a contingent of men to join Captain John Mason, a veteran of the 17th-century wars over religion in the Netherlands, in a retaliatory attack against the Pequots. The Connecticans also reached out to neighboring native tribes who had been in conflict with the Pequots. The Narragansetts and Mohegans each sent warriors to aid in the attack.
In the early morning hours of May 26, a combined force of nearly 70 Englishmen and 300 of their native allies attacked a fortified Pequot village near present-day Mystic, Connecticut. The predawn attack took the Pequots completely by surprise, but they quickly rallied in their own defense and turned the tables on the English. Fearing defeat, English commander John Mason, who had initially hoped to capture large supplies of grain stored in the village, reverted to the style of warfare commonly employed in the European religious wars of which he was a veteran. He pursued the complete annihilation of his enemies, a shock and awe approach meant to intimidate them into permanent submission. Mason ordered the fort and its dwellings torched. Within a single hour over 400 Pequot men, women, and children perished, unable to escape the palisaded village the English had set aflame.
While the attack delivered a devastating blow to the Pequots, the total-destruction tactics employed by the English soldiers ended up alienating their native allies. The Mohegan and Narragansett warriors were horrified at what they perceived to be ruthless English cruelty, as Mason’s men indiscriminately slaughtered Pequot women and children as well as men and warriors. The event became known to history as the Battle of Mystic Fort or the Mystic Fort Massacre. It stands as the most infamous example of the brutality that characterized the hostilities of the Pequot War, which would continue for another 16 months until the Treaty of Hartford was signed on September 21, 1638.
“The History of the Pequot War,” Battlefields of the Pequot War, pequotwar.org
Kevin McBride and Laurie Pasteryak Lamarre, “Exploring and Uncovering the Pequot War,” Connecticut Explored
Walter Woodward, “Two Controversial Statues Standing… At Least, For Now,” Connecticut Explored